ROCKVILLE – Don’t blame the troops for doing their jobs.
If there’s any lesson from the Vietnam War that resonated among the Montgomery County veterans attending the “Honor and Gratitude” program for Saturday, it’s that past and present members of the military should be respected for their service, not frown upon.
Throughout the nearly four-hour program at the Universities at Shady Grove, local Vietnam War veterans heard words of praise and stories of death and survival from local and federal politicians, other veterans and former “Face the Nation” host and Bob Scheiffer, who served as the emcee for the event.
Five former prisoners of war (POWs) from the County served as the headliners, with a closing speech by Everett Alvarez, who spent 8.5 years in captivity as the second American POW in Vietnam.
“It’s just wonderful,” said Schieffer, a veteran, during a brief interview. “These people are true heroes… To be in their presence is just awesome.”
In the front row next to Alvarez sat fellow former POWs Fred Cherry, Mike Cronin, Cliff Walker and Larry Stark.
“We received home comings,” said Alvarez, referring to himself and his fellow POWs. “But for the rest of you folks, you didn’t have it.”
He told the standing room-only crowd they offered a “blank check to the American people if you lost your life.
“You were the ones who did your job.”
According to Alvarez, an attitude adjustment among the public toward members of the military at large is one of the biggest domestic changes from the war.
“No longer do you blame the warrior for the policies, right or wrong,” he said.
After the speeches, Cherry called the event a “great tribute” and noted how the POWs received a “red carpet” treatment at home instead of being spit on or insulted.
“Everything that we love, everything we’re able to keep, we owe to the men and women in uniform,” he added.
At least one of those veterans who recalled receiving such treatment was in the audience Saturday.
Hyattsville resident James Livingston offered himself as someone still dealing with the fallout from the war, 40 years after its conclusion.
Labeled a “baby-killer” when he returned, the 67-year-old has battled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for decades, attending therapy sessions “religiously” over that time, he said.
Even seeing a section of woods in Rockville Oct. 24 triggered memories of Vietnamese tree canopies for Livingston, who served in the 87th airborne from 1968-1969.
“The wood line recreates the jungles of Vietnam,” he said. “In my mind, I’m going to the jungle.”
Livingston and his wife both mentioned his night terrors, during which he’ll dream he’s still in a Vietnam fire fight.
Once, he subconsciously hit his wife while waking up, said Livingston, the product of thinking she was his foreign enemy.
“I was really apologetic,” he said.